My first panic attack was at age five. Tears stung my eyes. I couldn’t catch my breath. I thought I was dying. Things just got worse from there. I was different from the others around me. My classmates could see this, excluding me from activities, and even refusing to sit next to me in class.
Yet I was always being told that the school years were the best years of my life. Mine were torture and I remember thinking that if these were the “best years of my life”, I wanted nothing to do adulthood.
So aged 10 I made a pact with myself that if I reached being an adult and nothing had improved, I couldn’t see myself carrying on with life. I didn’t have the words to describe what made me different. I just knew I was.
I now know I am transgender and that being LGBT+ is a positive thing, but my journey to this point shouldn’t have been so long and painful.
When I started secondary school, I had the chance for a fresh start. I couldn’t wait. I had started rituals to help me – I thought the cleaner I was the more likely people were to like me and that seemed to be working (more or less).
By the time I was 14, I had developed crippling OCD. Rituals and routines ruled all parts of my life, particularly around school. It left no time to worry about my sexuality or gender identity – focusing on my OCD meant my worries about identity were pushed to the side and forgotten about as much as possible.
When my friends all started dating and talking about boys, I couldn’t keep up appearances. I couldn’t keep the straight cisgender persona alive.
Then my friends started talking about how much they would love a gay best friend and I thought maybe I could finally fit in somewhere. However, it wasn’t so much they wanted someone who was gay – they wanted the stereotype of “the gay best friend” that is plastered on films and TV, which I wasn’t.
As a teenager, I got really ill and I had psychosis, brought on by what I believe was a mixture of depression, anxiety and stress. My parents say this is when things got really scary. My behaviour became erratic and sometimes even dangerous. I couldn’t really tell you what happened during that time as I was too caught up in school work and delusions.
With all these thoughts and more going round in my head, and not knowing if I would really get acceptance of who I truly was at school, I took the most serious of steps and I attempted to take my own life.
I couldn’t see a way of living as an adult and living authentically as me.
Luckily, I was caught and spent the next few months in hospital. Although it was a rough time for me, it gave me that chance to breathe and to work out what truly was important. I had a break from the constant stream of social media, so I got time to work on myself, sit with my own thoughts, watch a lot of YouTube, read books and generally be away from the pressures that I had put on myself.
Although I still didn’t know how to cope with the rejection of some of my friends, some of them still stuck by me and for this, I am so thankful. When I look back now, it’s so easy to see what could’ve helped me.
Quite simply, just feeling safe and accepted at school would’ve changed my life for the better. If education was more inclusive, if other students knew that being transphobic was unacceptable and being LGBT+ was seen as something positive rather than shameful, my teenage years would have been completely different.
These days, I surround myself with others who know that being LGBT+ is a beautiful thing and who accept me being trans. I volunteer with Just Like Us as an ambassador, meaning I speak in schools about being LGBT+, to hopefully make schools more inclusive for future generations.
This Mental Health Awareness Week, I hope there is another LGBT+ young person out there reading this and that you know: who you are is something to be celebrated.
Alternatively, call Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email email@example.com or visit the Samaritans website to find details of the nearest branch.